Editor's choice
2 Mar 18

First Drive Volvo XC40: 2018 European Car of the Year

It was about time that Volvo challenged the usual suspects in the premium C-SUV segment. If anything, the new XC40 wants to be more than just a baby XC60. It’s a Volvo for ‘generation smartphone’: twenty and thirty-somethings that seek strong design, customisation, convenience and connectivity.

The premium C-SUV segment has boomed since the 2010s and the growth curve is not expected to flatten for another few years. Volvo reckons that in the EMEA area it will expand from 400,000 units in 2017 to 550,000 units in 2021. The Swedish carmaker wants its fair share of the pie, which until recently was largely devoured by the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and VW Tiguan.

Volvo took its time to come up with an answer, but with good reason. Swedes usually don’t skate on thin ice, but make sure everything is put into place to ensure success. There is a lot of pressure on this new model, evidently. Volvo concluded that it needed to go off the beaten track to be able to fish in new ponds – or lower its buyers’ average age considerably, if you prefer. Judging by the first reactions, they have done a good job.

Born connected

Indeed, to attract those who were born connected, Volvo designed the XC40 around their online lifestyle. Smartphone integration, pre-programming your sat nav remotely, secure digital unlocking the car by smartphone to have a package delivered in the boot or lend the car to a friend: this Volvo has plenty of tricks up its sleeve to make life easier for the user.

Likewise, the XC40 is the first Volvo you don’t have to buy and manage yourself. You can opt for a subscription programme called Care by Volvo – basically a private lease offer – which includes a multitude of services, from maintenance to carwash, depending on the plan chosen. In times where B2E business is likely to take off, this might be an interesting alternative. Prices have not been communicated yet, and the launch time is market-dependent.

It is still a Volvo

Thankfully, the XC40 is more than the services around it. Even though the design explores new horizons, the XC40 looks, feels, sounds and smells like true Volvo. It exudes a sense of solidity, of safety, of luxuriousness that you do not feel aboard its competitors. Volvo was brave enough to let us drive the XC40 on the Jarama track near Madrid – and compare it to its direct rivals, like the Range Rover Evoque, Mercedes GLA, BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

The – very limited – comparative dynamic test made clear that the Swedish SUV is more agile than the Evoque, but less nimble than the X1, which is considerably lighter. It seemed the quietest and the most cosseting of all cars, but without any Belgian blocks or potholes at our disposal, it is impossible to tell if it’s also the most comfortable. The GLA is a whole different car concept: it is not much more than a raised A-Class, with all the benefits and inconveniences that come with it. The Audi Q3 falls short on many levels, which is only logical, given its age.

More SUV than its rivals

Volvo seemed keen on stressing that the XC40 is more SUV than its rivals. It all depends on what characteristics you attribute to the concept of an SUV, but if it is about spaciousness, practicality, storage, adventurous demeanour and ride height, they are probably right. The XC60’s baby brother is surprisingly roomy in the rear. Thanks to a class-leading wheelbase of 2,702 mm, even the tallest of passengers can move around their legs freely. The high and horizontal roofline ensures plenty of headroom, even with the optional sunroof fitted.

But what about its offroad capabilities? Volvo had set up a few metal ramps at the Jarama circuit to demonstrate the car’s intelligent all-wheel drive and its torsional rigidity. Fun and impressive as this exercise may have been, not many customers will take their XC40 off the main road. In fact, the car itself will do anything to keep you on track, with its comprehensive suite of ADAS. In this area, Volvo has a reputation to uphold.

Safety first

Every XC40 leaves the Belgian factory in Ghent equipped with Volvo’s City Safety with pedestrian detection as well as bicycle detection (a segment first) and large animal detection. Equally standard is Run Off Mitigation, a system that tries to keep the car on the road when it detects that the wheels on one side are devouring any material other than asphalt.  Finally, the standard Oncoming Lane Mitigation stops the car from turning left (or right, in the case of RHD vehicles) if an oncoming vehicle is detected.

And then there is Volvo’s impressive Pilot Assist. This optional system keeps the car within its lane and, in combination with the Adaptive Cruise Control, at a safe distance from preceding traffic. The optional BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) warns for any vehicles closing in when you want to change lanes. We have tested the system before on a V90 Cross Country and can only warmly recommend paying the extra money. We would have preferred to see the equipment included in the standard equipment, but that would make this XC40 more expensive than it already is.

Quality comes at a price

The XC40 is well on its way to become a fleet success. Looking at lease rates, the entry-level diesel, the D3 with a 2-litre four-cylinder (maximum 135 g/km CO2), is in between the BMW X1 and the Range Rover Evoque – its main rivals. The Bavarian SUV has the advantage of being powered by a smaller, more fuel-efficient diesel. The T3 entry-level petrol XC40 comes with a 1.5 three-cylinder, but like its diesel siblings, it has a relatively high CO2 rating (maximum 160 g/km).  

Any options we would recommend? The Sensus navigation system, of course, the Connect pack (smartphone integration and wireless charging) and the IntelliSafe Pro Pack (full suite of ADAS). If you want to experience the ultimate in sitting comfort and support, go for the R-Design, or the Luxury Seat Pack on the Momentum or Inscription model.  

FOCUS: RECYCLED BOTTLES FOR THE INTERIOR

Volvo introduces a new kind of liner in the XC40's interior: industrial felt made out of recycled plastic bottles (97%). It is also used in the door bins and feels a bit rough to the touch. Opinions on the appearance of the material diverge, too, but at least it draws attention to the fact that Volvo is committed to green car manufacturing.

PROS

  • Interior space, functionality
  • Class-leading safety suite
  • Connectivity and infotainment
  • Balance between comfort and dynamics

CONS

  • Relatively high CO2 rating, regardless of the powertrain
  • Door lining material not to everyone's taste
  • Price including optional extras
  • Lateral support of the standard seats

 

 

Authored by: Dieter Quartier